Let’s talk about another sage scifi idea you need: we must be connected. Simple, right? Deceptively so, for connection is a survival skill. As a species, our ability to cooperate is a must-have, especially as we contemplate whatever is going to happen next in our late-stage capitalism / boring dystopia. Disconnecting from each other will kill us. Learning how to connect, and re-connect, is why we survive as a species.
So why is it so hard to be connected? Interestingly, I read through Mark Greene’s essays on masculinity, connection, and culture. Modern culture has many connection-killing aspects and although Greene focused on it from a male-centric perspective, it’s important to remember that our need for connection is human. When we aren’t connected, we’re lonely.
What happens next? Well, when loneliness becomes a feature instead of a bug in culture, you get things like violence and aggression – kind of like what’s threaded though modern masculinity. Understanding that, we come to see that the toxic social behaviors within the scifi community aren’t really about science fiction, they’re about something deeper.
Members of a community have a sense of trust, belonging, safety, and caring for each other
Okay, so why would we care about any of this in the first place? Take a step back – science fiction is the genre of our stories. It’s also a community unto itself. “Members of a community have a sense of trust, belonging, safety, and caring for each other,” the SSIR says. “They have an individual and collective sense that they can, as part of that community, influence their environments and each other.”
Do we agree on that? That scifi is a community, not just a genre? If so, how does it work, what should it do for us, and what’s our responsibility as community members to contribute to a sense of trust, belonging, and safety?
Looking at the ‘scifi community’ through the lens of a sociologist, some ideas emerge. Like other communities, science fiction, has a social hierarchy. People like Mark Hamill, or Neil Gaiman? Institutions like the SFWA? They would be dominant members. They have influence, they assert control. Corporations like movie companies, Amazon, and Comic Con have influence too, but that’s a different topic. What about people like us? Well, we’re community members and participants. We have influence and control in so far as people are willing to let us.
Defining the Scifi Community Using Sociology
Scifi as a community follows common sociological ontologies when it comes to how it’s organized. For example, Dual strategies theory states humans increase their status in social hierarchies using two major strategies known as dominance and prestige.
When you look at the collaborative, mutually beneficial, expertise-driven aspects of scifi, you get the sense that our community uses Prestige as a strategy. But then, when you see scifi fans raging on on properties, franchises, or artists – what’s that called? It’s not prestige; it’s dominance.
Let’s talk about dominance as a strategy for social hierarchy. You know what it is, but maybe you’ve never seen it defined. Desire for authority, control, and power? Those are all dominance-based strategies.
We see ‘dominance’ in the use of force, threat, selfish withholding of resources and general intimidation in science fiction. Can you think of some examples? I can. It’s an unhealthy, fallacious, and unsustainable way to go through life. Yet, it continues – toxic fans are prepared to die on those hills. Why? Because they know it’s an effective way to climb the ladder of a social hierarchy.
Scifi community participants who use ‘dominance’ will accomplish one of several things: 1. They will climb higher on the hierarchy and scifi will change to align to their goals. 2. They will climb higher on the hierarchy only to find that there’s no ‘there’ there when it comes to dominating scifi 3. They will be defeated by scifi members who use ‘prestige’ as a community strategy.
How’s That Working Out?
What have we learned – Does scifi align to dominance? No, most of the time people using dominance rise for a while only to realize the truth: Dominance doesn’t drive creativity. When was the last time you saw the angry nerds cancelling Rose Marie Tran get together to fund their own scifi film? Doesn’t happen.
But what happens instead? We’ve seen endless battles between ‘dominance’ and ‘prestige’ – the scifi community participants who don’t want to be dominated or controlled by a loud minority. Want some examples? Here you go. [Link] [Link]
Fighting those battles has come at a terrible cost. Some connect through competition and dominance, but it disconnects others. Not only that, the world at large sees us competing and disconnecting and checks out: we’ve lost out on precious time to champion new, worthy additions to beloved scifi franchises. We’ve lost out on opportunities to participate in important discussions.
What do we do about it? I get into that more in Part II – stay tuned …